HC Deb 24 January 1991 vol 184 cc448-50
10. Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he last met representatives of the Council for the Protection of Rural England to discuss the impact of agriculture on the environment.

Mr. Gummer

My noble Friend the Minister of State met the Council for the Protection of Rural England on two occasions in 1990, the last on 1 August.

Mr. Jones

Has the Minister noticed the uncanny resemblance between the recently leaked proposals from the Commission for the reform of the CAP and CPRE's excellent document, "Future harvests"? Is he aware also of the policies of the National Consumer Council and of the Labour party, which are also virtually indistinguishable from those proposals? Will he now change his approach to the problem?

Mr. Gummer

I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not doing his party the disservice of suggesting that Labour policy is to ensure that the United Kingdom, alone of the countries of Europe, will carry the vast proportion of the cost of reform of the CAP. If that is what he says, I hope that my hon. Friends will make sure that every farmer, every consumer and every patriot knows.

Mr. Robert Hicks

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a key factor in upholding the countryside environment and supporting the rural economy is a prosperous agriculture, since farmers are the managers of the countryside? Is he aware of the real difficulties currently facing livestock producers, particularly in the south-west? Will he confirm that, if the proposals put forward by Mr. MacSharry were to be implemented, the position would deteriorate still further?

Mr. Gummer

My hon. Friend is right in saying that unless there is a prosperous farming, there can be no resources for farmers to look after the land. Therefore, if proposals would reduce the ability of competitive farmers, particularly in Britain, Denmark and Holland, those countries would find that the resources that we need for the environment were not available. My hon. Friend is right in saying that we oppose the MacSharry proposals because they would not deliver a reduction in the cost of the common agricultural policy, they would not preserve the environment and they would not protect the Community against fraud. They would enshrine for ever an entirely out-of-date, small farm system which cannot provide livings for farmers who remain on the land.

Mr. Alan W. Williams

Will the Minister accept that, with the common agricultural policy in growing difficulties and with the problems arising from the GATT negotiations, it is time for us to rethink what the common agricultural policy is all about and that agricultural support should move to support for environmental protection? Will he also accept that in rural areas the survival of small farmers is paramount?

Mr. Gummer

It depends on what the hon. Gentleman means by "small farmers". If he means family farmers as we know them in the United Kingdom, that is reasonable, but if by small farmers he means what Mr. MacSharry means by small farmers, none of the hon. Gentleman's constituents will be very pleased.

I therefore suggest to the hon. Gentleman that his first point is the better one—that we need progressively to move support that now goes almost exclusively to production-oriented systems towards help in looking after the environment. That is not the proposal of Mr. MacSharry, and I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) dissociates himself from the interpretation of his party's policy that we had from the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) earlier.